Former GA Communication Group changes name, teams up to expand operations.



After more than 30 years in the pharmaceutical and healthcare advertising arena, GA Communication Group has a new identity and an expanded business model. The agency is now Sandbox, an entirely new integrated marketing agency built on the foundation of four firms whose executives believe that, together, they can deliver much more for their clients.

According to its leaders, the new Sandbox agency, with some 350 employees and seven offices in the United States and Canada, was created to expand each agency’s client offerings while addressing a common client complaint about traditional advertising networks, i.e., many member companies just do not play well together, making client’s lives and business more difficult than it has to be.

“We’re privately owned and operated by the same like-minded agency people who have already built successful businesses,” says Joe Kuchta, a principal of Sandbox and former CEO of GA Communication Group. “There’s a culture of collaboration at Sandbox that, along with our expanded resources and diverse backgrounds, gives our clients access to top-level thinking, creativity and business expertise while creating exciting new career opportunities for our people. That’s the kind of agency people want to be part of and that clients need now more than ever. We truly do play well together and everyone benefits.”

The four founding members of Sandbox are GA Communication Group, with offices in Chicago and Los Angeles; McCormick Company, with offices in Kansas City, Indianapolis and Des Moines, Iowa; Manhattan-based Underline Communications; and Canadian firm One Advertising, with headquarters in Toronto.  

Kuchta says the plans to create Sandbox started a few years ago, when GA Communication Group was assessing its future. “We looked at all of our options to  stimulate growth, how do we keep growing, and that included talking to all of the big public networks, talking with private equity, talking with venture capital – all the folks where you can get some help with deals and some guidance and keep growing. And none of those options really seemed right for us.”

Instead, GA Communication found other independent agencies and partnered with them. “The owners, instead of getting bought out by some financial entity or huge holding company, bought into this concept of Sandbox,” Kuchta says. “It was in the works for most of last year, we signed all the deals and did a lot of integration and strategic planning, and earlier this month we were able to unveil that we are now one single agency.”

Executives say Sandbox works in a diverse range of long-established practice areas, including human and animal healthcare, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, biotechnology, agriculture, financial services, travel, and consumer products. The agency’s collective capabilities are comprehensive, with expansive talent in strategic planning, integrated marketing, creative services, branding, relationship marketing, and digital media execution and services.

The founding companies of Sandbox share ownership of the agency with Mark Anthony and John Hilbrich, industry veterans who helped create the new enterprise. All agreed the time was right to launch Sandbox as one integrated company, sharing a common name, culture and business philosophy.

The new agency has headquarters in Chicago and is led by an executive team composed of Kuchta and other owners of the new company. Each Sandbox location will retain its current staff and office space, and continue serving its clients with no interruption. According to agency leaders, there are no client conflicts to address.

“This is an exciting new stage in our evolution, a strategic move for our future,” Kuchta says. “Our focus is still on our clients, our people and our culture, but now we’re significantly more powerful. Our collective talent and resources allow us to compete with anyone on a global scale, and we’ve created an environment that lets us keep our identities and shape our future. Other agencies will likely join Sandbox, but the emphasis will never be on how big we are – it will always be about how great we can be, for our clients and for each other.”

And Kuchta and Sandbox’s other leaders plan to expand the agency in the future. “We built it out of the four cornerstones, and we have plans to complement by finding similar agencies, successful independently owned agencies where the owners do not want to disappear, that they want to keep running the business they know and love,” he says. “We have our sights on a couple more but we are being pretty deliberate, we’re not racing to reach a size. We’re looking to expand what we have to offer and fill some holes.”

In future expansion, the agency is interested in establishing an office in Europe, Kuchta says. “A European footprint is definitely high on our strategic plan,” he says. “We have global business at GA, our Toronto office has business that spans across North America, and although we’ve been working globally for 15 years, we always bump up against not having a footprint, our own office, where a lot of the local affiliates are. So that’s high on our list and definitely where we want Sandbox to expand.”